Venom: Let There Be Carnage review: Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson go full chaotic in bonkers sequel
In 2018's Venom, symbiotic aliens came down from a comet and invaded the body of Tom Hardy. (That cuts out a few steps, but we digress). The movie began as serious Marvel business, supposedly — an extended-universe nod to the comic books, and an establishing cameo in 2007's Spider-Man 3 — though where it landed felt a lot closer to chaotic buddy comedy: a platonic love story between a man and the extraterrestrial insult comic living inside him. None of it made a ton of sense, but it did make more than $850 million at the box office. So now that id has been fully set free in Venom: Let There Be Carnage — a sequel whose title is both a promise and the premise, in its entirety.
Is there a plot? Sort of, as far as the fact that Hardy's hard-nosed San Francisco news reporter Eddie Brock — now resigned to the truculent roommate, more like a teenage Kraken, who shares his body and his apartment — has been called up to investigate the case of a grinning psychopath named Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson). Cletus had a rough childhood, in that he killed nearly everyone in it; the only person he's ever found the heart to care for is Frances (Naomie Harris), his former fellow psychiatric patient now locked up for years in a secret facility because when she screams, the sound is so extreme it's an actual sonic weapon. (Also because like him, she's criminally insane.)
Cletus has been sentenced to die for his crimes, but a local detective (Boardwalk Empire's Stephen Graham) wants Eddie to find out where all the bodies are buried before he goes. A careless jailhouse encounter lets Venom's DNA make an unauthorized transfer, and soon Cletus has his own Kraken inside him, Carnage. (It's just like Eddie's, only bigger and meaner and redder). There's also a chance that Eddie's lawyer ex, the long-suffering Anne (Michelle Williams, hopefully getting a giant paycheck for this) and her new love, the hapless Dr. Dan (Reid Scott), will be drawn into the battle of symbiotic titans that ensues. And that the movie will have to demolish several San Francisco landmarks, uncountable bystanders, and most ideas of sense and continuity along the way.
British actor Andy Serkis, a godhead of Hobbit lore who likely knows this Comic-Con world of genre and fantasy better than most, directs the movie, though he feels more like a benevolent ringmaster here: Mostly it's a chance to watch Hardy bicker with his CG alter ego, who looks like an enraged ink blot with piranha teeth and talks like a doom-metal frontman, about snacks and housekeeping — Venom can sate his needs with chocolate and chickens, though of course he prefers human brains — and let Harrelson gleefully chew up the screen. There are a few big-reach set pieces, including frenzied showdowns inside a prison death chamber and a cavernous cathedral, though the crashing, helter-skelter fight scenes tend to feel like so much obligatory noise between the banter.
The computer-generated stuff works best, generally, when it's on a smaller scale: The symbiotes' limbs move like liquid gristle, and a hulking Venom, caught up in a sort of elaborately costumed Burning Man–slash–Day of the Dead midnight rave, neatly blends into the crowd. Otherwise it's largely left to Hardy to play against himself — he voices Eddie's Brooklyn-palooka everyguy and Venom's Darth-baritoned invader alike — as both an ordinary man trying to speak truth to power and an ornery, rapacious alien who simply says whatever unfiltered thought occurs to him (usually about stupid people, primal urges, or poultry) out loud.
Harrelson's Cletus, with his homicidal-hillbilly energy and hair seemingly purloined from the wig room at Riverdale, doesn't really need an extraterrestrial parasite to set him free; he looks like he's having a ball. (His delight at finding a sweet convertible parked on the street isn't that different from the pleasure he gets casually tossing a passing truck off the Golden Gate Bridge, or stomping in the head of an innocent bodega clerk.) That happy, heedless embrace of anarchy somehow serves the movie's YOLO sensibility, and even comes to define it in its own way — if we're all disposable space chum in this franchise game anyway, who needs a coherent narrative and character arcs? Just bite the head off every chicken, and lean in. Grade: C+
Journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and his alien symbiote buddy return to face off with serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson).